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MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe Review with Paragon Binding

MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are best-of-breed snowshoes that are ideal for winter hiking and backpacking in mountainous terrain. They’re designed with a unique 360-degree traction system that allows you to walk up slopes or laterally across them without losing your grip. The Lightning Ascents were the first snowshoes to integrate serrated crampons directly into the snowshoe frame, in addition to more conventional crampon placements under the ball of the foot and the heel.

MSR Lighting Ascent Snowshoes w/Paragon Binding


Rugged and Durable Snowshoes

MSR's Lightning Ascent Snowshoes are designed for use in rugged and hilly terrain with aggressive crampons. They have a new Paragon Binding system which is easier to use than the previous binding and is compatible with all forms of footwear.

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The Lightning Ascents revolutionized snowshoe design when the first came out about 10 years ago because they significantly improved the amount of traction that snowshoes could provide on icy trails and mountainsides. The serrated frame and lateral supports also prevented something called “snowballing” which occurs when snow and ice clump up in crampon teeth so it feels like your walking on top of bowling balls. This happens on any kind of toothed traction device, including microspikes, and the step-in or strap-on crampons that you attach to winter hiking and mountaineering boots. Since the horizontal rear crampons are not boxed crampons, but serrated horizontal struts built into the frame, snowballing can’t occur. It was ingenious.

How to carry snowshoes on a backpack
It is much easier to strap snowshoes to the side of a backpack if the bindings lay flat like those on the MSR Lightning Ascent


The Lightning Ascents also come with Televators that help relieve calf fatigue when snowshoeing up hills. This was also a huge innovation when it was first introduced but is now a standard feature on all backcountry snowshoes designed for use in mountainous or hilly terrain. The Televator is a wire loop that can be flipped up under your heel when you are ascending a steep slope and locks into the tread of your boots so it won’t slip. It raises your heel so that you feel like you are walking on a level surface and prevents your calves from burning out on climbs. It also exerts direct pressure on the horizontal bar-shaped crampon under the snowshoe’s heel so you don’t slide backward and lose ground when climbing on hills.

Although using the Televator feels like you’re walking in high heels, you quickly adapt to it. It doesn’t feel wobbly or anything, because the downward force of your weight is distributed laterally across the snowshoe and not on a single tiny point. Plus, you have trekking poles for balance. When you’re done climbing, you can strike your pole handles against the Televators to fold them back down flush with the snowshoe decking.

Lightning Ascent Paragon Binding

The Paragon binding packs flat against the side or back of a backpack. The binding is a flexible net made with an elastic stretch material that distributes pressure evenly across the top of your boot and eliminates binding hot spots. The front corners of the binding prevent your foot from sliding too far forward, ensuring that the ball of your foot is positioned directly on top of the front crampon every time. That’s a great feature, especially for beginners, but pros like it too.

The front corner posts position your toes over the front crampon and prevent your boots from sliding too far forward over them.

The two corner straps on the binding are held closed with plastic clips that are wider at the end than in the body, so they can’t slip through the clips. If you’re the only person using the snowshoe, you can fit the side binding straps to your boots, lock them in place, and never fuss with them again.

The heel strap is secured with a plastic clip which prevents it from working loose.
The heel strap is secured with a plastic clip which prevents it from working loose.

The Paragon’s mesh netting feels very natural and you don’t have to make it super tight to hold your foot in place. The

The Heel Strap

The heel strap on earlier Ascent snowshoes had problems and would frequently pop open. Some of us would duct tape it permanently shut to prevent this and just use the top straps to secure the snowshoe to our feet. While you can still technically do this with the Paragon binding, I’ve found that the heel strap stays reliably closed in the new binding and doesn’t pop open, in part because MSR provides a plastic clip to help hold it in place and prevent it from working itself loose.

The heel strap even stays secure when you break its plastic keeper clip, which I managed to do the first time I used the Paragon binding at the end of last winter. Regardless, the new Paragon reduces the amount of torsional flexing of the heel strap enough so that it will stay closed even if you bust or lose the clip. (A binder clip makes a good substitute.)

The Lightning Ascent has a hinged crampon assembly which digs into the snow:ice and mimics your stride
The Lightning Ascent has a hinged crampon assembly that digs into the snow/ice and mimics your stride. Note the raised televator above.

Comparable Winter Hiking Snowshoes

Make / ModelHeel BarBinding
MSR Lightning AscentYesMesh Net
MSR Evo AscentYesTriFit Straps
Tubbs Flex VRTYesBoa
Tubbs Flex ALPYesRatchet Strap
TSL Symbioz EliteYesRatchet Strap
Tubbs MountaineersYesRatchet Strap
Atlas Range BCYesWebbing Strap
MSR Revo Explore YesRatchet Strap
Northern Lites BackcountryNoSki Straps
Crescent Moon Backcountry 32YesWebbing Strap


I’ve used MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes for trail breaking and on packed trails with the new Paragon binding and they are better than ever. The new binding is simpler to adjust and stays reliably closed even in the toughest conditions. It’s very comfortable, eliminates the hot spots of the previous model, and is designed to provide optimal foot placement over the front crampon for maximum stride efficiency and traction.

Once fitted to your winter boots, you really never have to fuss with the binding again and you’ll experience the same perfect fit every time…which is a big improvement on the older model.  I was leery when MSR originally announced changes to the Lightning Ascent Snowshoe because I feared that they’d diminish its legacy as a breakthrough product, but I needn’t have worried. MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes with the new Paragon Binding are better than ever.

Disclosure: MSR provided the author with a pair of snowshoes for this review.

Updated December 2022.

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  1. After looking at them in stores, I remain skeptical.

  2. I think the “sustainable” option would be for MSR to create a trade in program where you could send in your old lightning ascents and receive the new model for a modest fee. Then MSR could refurbish the old models and sell them at cost to people who want less expensive, less expensive snowshoes. Concentrating the resale of old snowshoes would help ensure they’re passed along to new consumers rather than getting thrown into a landfill or gathering dust in a garage.

    • Agreed. What I interpreted that message from the MSR rep to mean is, “Well, we need to sell stuff to stay in business. This is very popular product with one big flaw. If we eliminate that flaw, I bet we can get a bunch of people to replace their old show shoes with new ones, plus continue to sell plenty to new users. If we offer a retrofit kit, or retrofit them ourselves, that is a lot of work for not as much money. Now we just need to green wash those facts. I know, let’s play up the old bindings would be waste angle. Hopefully this will distract people enough that they will ignore the fact that corporate practices like planned obsolescence end up creating nearly infinitely more waste than your old bindings ever will.”

    • I agree. I bought my Lightning Ascent’s Two years ago because they were “legendary” and had great reviews with minor quibbles about the bindings. Those so called “minor quibbles” are major problems for me. I didn’t mind paying the high price for these MSR snowshoes because I figured they would last a very long time, but after trying everything I could to make these bindings work I am ready to throw them away. They are no better than the old lamp wick system I used with my father’s old moose hide snowshoes back in the 1970s. If MSR won’t make an upgrade for these bindings or offer a fair trade in towards a new pair, then frankly, they have lost a customer for life. I will never trust this company again.

  3. Have you experienced or heard of any issues with the durability of the two large crampon teeth? I’ve come across broken teeth a few times on the trail and last year, both teeth broke off my lightning ascents.

    • I’ve never broken the teeth of an MSR snowshoe and I’ve been using them for over 10 years. I think most people who do break them break the binding mount. Did you contact MSR support about them? I suspect that would be covered under their guarantee. (What in god’s name did you do?)

      • I broke one tooth last April. The first time in 5 years of ownership of the same pair of shoes. MSR customer service was great about it.

    • MSR updated the crampons several seasons ago to address the issue of broken and bent teeth. Shoes for the past two seasons have implmeneted that change. The new binding is built on the updated crampon.

      • Mine have broken as well. I’m having trouble locating replacements. The company so far has failed to answere my requests for info about replacements. Has anyone found a source for buying replacements?

        • They do not respond to phone calls or emails, but if you send them in, they will replace the crampon for $10.00. I use mine so much that I wore the outer “T” rivets through (aluminum on aluminum). They also replaced that. Make sure you list your RMA # when you ship them into Cascade Designs.

  4. For all of us who own either the Lightning Ascents or Revo Ascents with the older bindings, we can only hope that MSR comes around to supporting us who have purchased their product(s) instead of hiding behind the “sustainable course of action” excuse. From a corporate standpoint it makes more sense to their bottom line for us all to have to buy the new snowshoes instead of only profiting from the smaller sale price of a retrofit. MSR is discounting the goodwill that it could obtain by offering the retrofit.

    • MSR has started trying to sell direct to consumers via their website but hasn’t had much success at getting people to buy from them instead of REI. Imagine if a $$ upgrade or conversion kit was only available thru their website and not through retail outlets….that would certainly provide a boost to their ecommerce strategy, not to mention a huge boost in customer loyalty. Just saying. I understand the established channel model that MSR operates under, but that was a missed opportunity.

    • If you can afford it and covet the new bindings, why not buy new snow shoes and donate the old ones to charity?

      In the Northeast, the AMC Youth Opportunity Program (YOP) would probably love to get your old gear and lend it to under privileged youth to get them Outdoors.

      • If you currently have a pair of LA’s and there is nothing wrong with the frame you can buy the cheaper Revos and move the new binding/crampon assembly over to the older LA’s.

  5. How adjustable is the new binding for large feet? My old pair of Revo’s broke last season and I’ve been skeptical about the new binding design

  6. I have heard that the new Paragon binding system may be an issue for people with big feet. I take a size 12 wide shoe but have to use a size 13 winter boot to get the width. So my Koflack double boots are pretty big. Do you think these would work with the new binding system? Does MSR give any information on the new binding system and boot size?

  7. I dunno about the new Lightning Ascents but my Gen. 1 pair are still going strong with no breakages.

  8. It’s a bummer to have the next year’s shoes get better bindings after buying them, which seens endemic as a lot of learning is apparently going on.

    I bought the Flex Alps last year (thinking i was getting something that wouldn’t be upgraded soon) and love them. But see this year’s has already improved on the binding. Again, love the shoes, but nust feel slightly jilted…

    • Chris, is your jilted feeling re. snowshoe binding upgrades sorta like the feeling one gets when APPLE “… no supports your i-Phone 6”?

  9. The new MSR bindings look great.

    I have two pairs of older MSR (Lightning & Evo’s) that I had to replace the bindings straps on due to wear and tear but they lasted a long time. My Lightning straps were replaced with the newer ratchet straps which I preferred.

    I’m surprised that no snowshoe maker has used the standard universal snowboard like bindings. I have them on a pair of 125cm Altai short ski/snowshoe hybrids and now a 160cm pair of OAC ski’s (OEM for Black Diamond skis) and they are fantastic- dialed in fit with comfort and very sturdy – see

  10. MSR doesn’t want to waste the bindings of your old one so they won’t sell a retrofit kit for “sustainability” reasons…… Lets get real, they won’t sell it because they want the money from you to buy a whole new snow shoe, then your old snowshoe gets left…. so instead of wasting just a binding, you waste the whole damn snow shoes. MSR don’t act like it’s for sustainability when we all know it’s for your bottom dollar cash amount.

    • I think MSR blew it, but if there’s anyone to blame it’s probably Google. Why Google? Because google encourages brands to reuse product names so they come up in searches. I think MSR would have done better if they’d just come out with a new product called the Paragon Ascent.

  11. Which length snowshoe do you use?

  12. Just bought these snowshoes and really like the mesh binding at the front as it holds my boot and there are no pre4ssure points – BUT, the heel binding is very stiff and hard to tighten in cold weather (i.e. -24 C) which is a serious disadvantage.

    • Thanks for mentioning this Amy. I purchased the MSR Evo Ascents in 2011 and cursing the bindings ever since, but kept the snowshoes because they have such a great grip on frozen mountaintops. I was really hoping for a better new generation but the Paragon binding solution looks awfully disappointing to me, I was really hoping MSR would get rid of those stiff and useless straps. Took MSR so long to figure out a mediocre solution, looks like I might have to switch brands before i can hope for an efficient binding on this otherwise fantastic snowshoe.

      • I just tape the back strap on the MSR Evo Ascent shut. Works fine. I’ve reviewed just about every snowshoe made over the past 10 years and have yet to find a better binding than the old MSR straps. I kid you not. They don’t break. Period. Trust me, you never want to experience broken bindings.

  13. I have had my original Women’s Lighting Ascents for 10 years and they have brought me to many high peaks in the Adirondacks. Recently, I just cannot get my flappy straps to stop flapping and it is driving me crazy. I have to stop 30-50 times each hike to adjust. My feet are little and there is a lot of extra strap, but I don’t want to cut them or tape them. I have been dreaming of new snowshoes but really hoped I could upgrade instead of buy new ones. Add me to the list of hikers who adore everything about the old Ascents except the binding. Someone mentioned upgrading the straps? Can I just upgrade to a smaller and more flexible strap?

  14. I always feel that women’s products seem inferior to the quality and efficiency of men’s products. why issn’t the ascent called a unisex. When you compare to the women’s MSR Lighting, it does not have as many of the features. I don’t get it. Women do so much purchasing.

    • The MSR lightning ascent and MSR lightning are different products with a different feature set. The is a women’s version of the lightning ascent which is identical to the men’s version but the sizing is slightly different because women are generally smaller and have a narrower gait than men.

    • I am a 5′ 8″ male that owns the Women’s 25″. Their website suggest if you are shorter to try the women’s because they are more narrow. I do not trip with the women’s Lightning Ascent snowshoes. I have used the men’s and tripped all the time catching one shoe on the other as I am walking. Several people I snowshoe with had the same problem so I suggested to get the women’s and they did and found instant relief.

  15. Phil, what’s the missing word(s?) in the 2nd line of your reply to Kathy Rauch? /Thanks for the helpful review.

  16. What am I missing? Company produces best in class product that works as good as the design, technology and manufacturing of the day are capable of. Then, they produce a new model with upgrades which they believe (and have yet to be tested over time) will be well-received by the public and their patrons. Then, everyone loses their minds. I could be wrong but my experiences with MSR generally have been that they produce a pretty good product at a competitive price.

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